Seeing Things

An Art Exhibition inspired by the hallucinations of Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Visual Hallucinations

It was a pleasure to attend the first day of the Seeing Things interactive art exhibition, which is taking place at the lovely Forum in Norwich over the next two weeks.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a type of visual hallucination which people can experience after sight loss. In comparison with other types of hallucination, those who experience these know that they are just a creation of the brain as a reaction to visual loss.

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Fascinating paintings depicting some of these hallucinations. Source: Own photo


The Art of Charles Bonnet

This art exhibition, set up by the NNAB, features art from people who suffer from the syndrome, as well as other visual artists who have been inspired from speaking to those who experience these vivid hallucinations, which have their own unique attributes in comparison with other types of hallucinations.

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To the left – a bear statue in front of some upside-down cupcakes. Strange faces can also be a feature of the condition. Source: Own photo


Experiences

Dominic Ffytche, a world expert in the condition, gave a fantastic lecture about the Syndrome, and it was indeed fascinating to listen to the experienced of sufferers from the condition. The audience comprised of people who suffered from the condition, people who had not previously heard of the syndrome and clinicians, such as myself, who are aware about the condition but want to understand more and gain perspective.

I was particularly intrigued by the number of people who experience hallucinations of old period clothing from different eras, which seems to be a consistent feature of the syndrome. Interestingly, even when the syndrome was first described 250 years ago — the literature describes sufferers talking about people wearing period dress of the time. Perhaps 18th century formal-wear has a hallucinatory quality to it?

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Dr Dominic Ffytche, an expert in the condition, shows images of certain visual hallucinations that people experience. Source: own photo


Gaps

Even though Charles Bonnet Syndrome was first described 250 years ago, by a Swiss philosopher who was writing about his grandfather’s experiences having lost his sight to cataracts, we still do not know why exactly it happens. Certainly, we suspect that the brain fills in the gaps generated from visual loss by producing new fantastic pictures or old images which it might have stored. For many people, these hallucinations are not a problem but for some they can, understandably, be distressing. Certainly, it helps to understand these hallucinations and it is useful for both sufferers, the public and clinicians (such as yours truly) to be aware and understand this fascinating condition.

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An interesting hallucination — bear and inverse cupcakes. Source: own photo

To this end, it is fantastic to have an art exhibition which both raises awareness and bewitches us, humbling us as clinicians into realising there is still so much about the eyes and the brain that we don’t yet understand. Do you have any experience of this condition? Please feel free to comment below.

Links:
Royal National Institute of Blind People
Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind
NHS Charles Bonnet Syndrome Information

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower Spoiler-Free Review: The Birth of Studio Ponoc

Last week I caught a preview screening for the debut feature from Ghibli heir Studio Ponoc at the fantastic Cinema City Picturehouse cinema in Norwich, UK. I had consciously avoided any review of this film, apart from chancing upon a somewhat disappointing missive a few weeks before.

The cinema was packed to the rafters with cinephiles, and it was a rare pleasure to witness flawless etiquette amongst the audience (which spanned all ages). The only test for the latter was a slightly overlong, nevertheless interesting, behind-the-scenes documentary which preceded the film itself, explaining the birth of Studio Ponoc. Founder Yoshiaki Nishimura was brutally honest in his statement that the creation of a new studio was deemed necessary for several Ghibli staffers after Hayao Miyazaki’s announcement that he would not be making any more feature films. “We have young families” stated Nishimura in his explanation of the rationale behind the new studio.

Studio Ponoc

Studio Ponoc was founded in April 2015, and Nishimura brought several other Ghibli members of a similar age to himself, with the goal being the birth of a new Japanese animation dynasty. Indeed, Ponoc is a Serbo-Croatian word which means midnight or the beginning of a new day. The pedigree of Ponoc’s crew is not in doubt — its lead director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, has already been a key animator of Spirited Away and Ponyo, before taking the reins completely for The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. Other animators have had roles in a number of Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces over the years.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the debut feature for the studio, and is scheduled for a UK-wide release on the 4th May 2018. It is based on “The Little Broomstick”, a children’s novel written by Mary Stewart in 1971. The version I saw was in Japanese, with English subtitles. The dubbed version features some stellar voice cast including the likes of Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet. However, my personal experience is that there is always some magic lost in the dubbed versions of japanese animated films.

Film Synopsis (No Spoilers apart from those already in the Trailer)

The film starts with a bang, with a chaotic battle scene which only reveals its significance towards the end of the film. We meet Mary, a well fleshed-out young red-haired girl who does not like her hair and is inquisitive about the world. She gets annoyed easily, particularly at her own quirks, but she is caring and empathetic in her interactions with others. As a lead character, she is excellent and deserves to be the early symbol for Studio Ponoc in the same way that Totoro has been for Studio Ghibli. Indeed, our empathy for her transcends some of the finest Ghibli protagonists: Kiki, San, perhaps even Spirited Away’s Chihiro.

Mary’s world is upended following a visit into the woods, which is clearly inspired by the studio’s heritage, and the rest of the story has a magical theme (as implicated by the title) with segments which do resemble Ghibli’s classic Kiki’s Delivery Service. Mary meets a Headmistress who appears inspired by Zeniba from Spirited Away, enters a world of the arcane arts and encounters a perilous situation which threatens all that she loves. The plot is somewhat formulaic and, perhaps, lacks the flights of whimsy and depth from Ghibli’s finest works which could elevate it to a true masterpiece. However, the formula is, like a perfect witch’s potion, brewed perfectly and did not feel derivative.

Visuals

The film is mainly set in Rural England, and the behind-the-scenes featurette described how the animators travelled to England and made sketches of the countryside. Their meticulous research has paid dividends in some breathtaking English scenery, from forests filled with mist to verdant countryside. Later scenes have a psychedelic appearance which seem inspired by The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and have so much detail that it is impossible to appreciate them in just one viewing. To put it simply, the beauty of this film rivals anything that Studio Ghibli has done.

BBFC Age Rating

The film is rated “U” for very mild threat. Whilst I agree that the feature warrants a U rating for children to have the optimum chance to be bewitched by this film, it does actually have some intense moments, including emotive scenes involving animals.

Overall

The spirit of Ghibli permeates this film, and a tight plot is complemented by stunning visuals which rival any of the works of the studio’s progenitor. Despite a fantastical narrative, the magical whimsy of Ghibli’s finest works doesn’t quite make it over to Ponoc’s debut to forge a true masterpiece. However it is an immensely strong debut feature which Ghibliholics, fantasy fans and many more will wolf down faster than Spirited Away’s No-Face.

This kind of film needs to be championed, as a world without the beauty of Miyazaki’s legacy, would be a dark world indeed.

My rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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EGX Rezzed 2018 Review

I just attended the Rezzed games event in London for the first time. This is a spin-off from the main EGX (originally, the Eurogamer Expo) with a primary focus on indie games. It also seeks to attract young budding games-makers and journalists to the industry. The weekend had a very relaxed theme and people were immensely friendly. The location in London’s Tobacco Dock was also well-ventilated (very important when there are lots of gamers), there wasn’t much queuing required (often none), and it made for a thoroughly pleasant experience for a Spring weekend.

There were a number of games that I enjoyed both playing, and looking at. Here are some of my highlights:

Onrush

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Codemasters.com

There were, of course, smatterings of “triple A” titles, and the one which I enjoyed the most was a racing game developed by Codemasters called Onrush. This was a fast-based arcade-style racing game with various types of vehicles on a hilly terrain and it was setup as a 6vs6 competition in the expo. It reminded me of the Excitetruck remake on Nintendo Wii and MotorStorm on Playstation. The gameplay was very crisp, and it was obvious that the makers have put a lot of time testing the game to make sure it plays beautifully. The soundtrack was outstanding too. The release date is 5th June 2018.

Homo Machina

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http://www.homomachina-game.com/

This gorgeous 2D exploration game from Darjeeling Productions is inspired by the medical illustrations of Dr Fritz Kahn. Think of the concept of the Pixar film “Inside Out” with tiny little humanoids controlling your actions. I just wanted to watch the game, can’t wait for it to come out on mobile and tablet formats.

Bad North

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https://www.badnorth.com/

This game caught my eye in the Nintendo Switch section (though it will be released on all formats) – a compact little real-time strategy game on rotatable islands inhabited by humble island dwellers who are under attack from Vikings. It may look simplistic but the minimalist charm and movements (e.g. the way the arrows and rain drop) were zen bliss.

Phogs

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Image: Bitloomgames.com

This was such a wacky offering from Bitloom Games – you and a friend control a double-ended dog as you solve puzzles on various floating islands, with the aim being to feed a giant worm with either an acorn or a globe-shaped light bulb (!) The cooperative mechanic (both players sharing one controller) was amongst the finest I have every played, and the lovely pastel colours were joyful to look at. Loved it!

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Me sitting on some Phogs-theme upholstery

Strange Brigade

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Image: Strangebrigade.com

This cooperative third-person shooter by Rebellion Developments had an exuberant 1930s theme to it, I played a level as one of four diverse heroes fighting hordes of mythic beings in some kind of Egyptian setting. The visuals were stunning and the gameplay mechanics felt great, but the main attraction of the game was the over-the-top British pulp style narration.

Knights and Bikes

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http://foamswordgames.com/

This hand-painted game set on a British island seemed to have an ET/Stranger Things/Super8 style theme to it, with an 80s feel and coming-of-age theme. In the small part that I watched, there was a clear emotional underpinning to the game which suggests a lot of heart has been put into the writing and design.

The Leftfield Collection

There were some awesome little indie games in the Leftfield Room – the ones which stood out for me were Wobble Garden: a spring and light based installation which provided a sensory experience unlike any other game I’d played before. Haiku Adventure had a beautiful Japanese ukiyo-e inspired landscape scene in a puzzle game which seemed to involve using Haiku to chill out a flock of assorted wildfowl.

Other Comments

The show also had some very nice retro games, and also had a few multiplayer units for games which had already been released. I particularly enjoyed re-awakening my old puzzling skills in Sega’s Puyo Puyo Tetris. My younger brother Sina The Doc, who first suggesting we attend this expo, also enjoyed meeting some of his podcasting heroes and had a go on a game which appears inspired by the classic Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital:

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My younger Brother on the left, Sina The Doc

A nice weekend, maybe I’ll come again next year!

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Learn from the Scarlet Spider — Think Uveitis


Ben Reilly — The Scarlet Spider. Well-intentioned but flawed.

Marvel’s Scarlet Spider is an interesting narrative experiment on the nature of soul. Ben Reilly is a clone of the original Peter Parker who shares the physical traits of the famous webslinger. Through vaguely-described “arcane magic”, he even gets an imprint of Parker’s memories.

Clone Wars: The Scarlet Spider fighting with Spider-Man. Source: Marvel Comics

However, as he does not share the many responsibilities of his more famous clone, Ben Reilly struggles with true purpose in life. Possessing the same intelligence and inquisitive mind as Peter Parker, his desire to discover and experiment leads him to make some bad choices, which have led him to die and be resurrected more times than is habitual for a Marvel Comics character.

As a result, Ben has flirted the line between heroism and villainy, seemingly resolved to entropy as an antihero. Even when he wants to do the right thing, his virtuous intentions backfire. In a recent storyline (written by Peter David, pencilled by Will Sliney and coloured by Rachelle Rosenberg) during which demons take over Las Vegas, Ben makes an assumption we can all be guilty of when seeing red eyes:

“Is this creature possessed by some sort of satanic entity?”

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider. Issue 16 (David, Sliney, Rosenberg)

Ben has been very presumptuous here. In a Las Vegas which is arguably more satanically inclined that usual, he has naturally assumed that anyone with red eyes is a demon.

He hits this man with the force of his radioactively enhanced jab, and wasn’t prepared for what came next…

Jimmy’s family are angry and upset with the Scarlet Spider

“But… he has red eyes”. Ben struggles when explaining his actions to Jimmy’s wife and daughter. It dawns on him that he has jumped to conclusions.

Jimmy’s wife explains that he has Uveitis, and has clearly read the patient information leaflet “It’s an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye!” The episode finishes with Ben receiving a well-deserved kick in the shin from Jimmy’s young daughter.

Learn from the Scarlet Spider. Think Uveitis

Whether you are the well-intentioned but haphazard clone of a popular superhero or not, it’s always worth thinking about Uveitis as a cause of red eye. Uveitis literally means inflammation of the uvea — the middle layers of the eye and can have a huge number of causes including trauma, various infections and autoimmune diseases (where the body attacks itself). In many cases, no cause is ever found.

Uveitis can have different patterns — it can come and go with no problems in between, or can flare up many times and cause a lot of discomfort and anxiety for the sufferer. Jimmy may well have had a number of flares before, and his current treatment could be anything from steroid eyedrops to tablets or injections, all with the aim of reducing the inflammation in the eye.

Jimmy lives in the United States of America, where an estimated 300,000 people are affected by Uveitis each year. In many cases, anterior uveitis may be misdiagnosed as a bacterial conjunctivitis, which has a different treatment of antibiotic drops or ointment.

Jimmy has both red eyes

In this panel, Jimmy appears to have acute anterior uveitis — the form which affects the front of the eye, either the iris (iritis) or the ciliary body (iridocyclitis). Together with a red eye, he may well be suffering from symptoms such as blurred vision and light sensitivity(photophobia). The latter can be very hard for Uveitis sufferers to deal with, and even more so considering the fluorescent lighting which adorns the City of Lights. Jimmy is wearing polarized sunglasses to help him manage as he navigates the Vegas strip:

Given that his eyes are so red, Jimmy is likely to have only recently had a flare of his disease, and may have only just started treatment. Both eyes are red rather than just one, which makes it more likely that he has an underlying “systemic disease” disease. In addition, the whole of his eyes are red, which isn’t a typical pattern seen in anterior uveitis where the classic appearance of redness is immediately surrounding the iris:

Classic “Ciliary Flush” image of Iritis with redness surrounding the iris where the cornea and sclera meet, an area called the “limbus”.

However, there are other causes why his eye might be red whilst he is being treated for Uveitis, which might include:

  1. Episcleritis/Anterior Scleritis — He may have these conditions as a co-diagnosis (alongside his Uveitis). These diseases reflect inflammation of blood vessels in different layers of the white of the eye, and can be associated with an underlying disease. Jimmy might have Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or a number of other full-body disease which can be linked to different problems in the eye.
  2. Glaucoma — Jimmy may have uveitic glaucoma , raised pressure in the eye caused by inflammation (from uveitis) obstructing and damaging the structures in the eye which allow for outflow of the aqueous humour. the sudden eye pressure rise would cause red However, Jimmy would likely feel very sick and in too much pain to verbally joust with our friendly neighbourhood spider clone.
  3. Allergy — If Jimmy has been taking eye drops for his Uveitis, they may contain a preservative which he is allergic to. I hope that his Ophthalmologist switches him to a preservative-free formula.

One can only hope that Ben Reilly, our Scarlet Spider, learns from this lesson and doesn’t make presumptions about peoples’ eyes, even in the context of a satanic takeover of Sin City.

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A Psalm for Albion

An Albion of yore in The Hay Wain — John Constable (1821)

“We should be realistic, this is our politics now”


This was the take-home message at the end of Newsnight, the flagship late-night current affairs show of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was sobering.

The subject of conversation was the increasingly fragmented political discourse in the United Kingdom and, in particular, a series of chants which took place outside Parliament which were aimed at Conservative MP Anna Soubry (who, contrary to most of her party, has campaigned against Brexit).

UK Houses of Parliament

As I work in a hospital on the opposite side of the River Thames, I witnessed some of these chants yesterday.


Anyone who is not very worried about what is going on in our country now is burying their heads in the sand more deeply than a psammophile ostrich. This is very frightening indeed.

Just as much of our media have consistently mimicked Völkischer Beobachter and Der Stürmer of 20s Germany, some of the most vicious and thuggish portions of our society are now more empowered than ever, and police and reporters stand by idly whilst the societal, geopolitical and economic futures of this country is their bully’s playground.

https://twitter.com/MikeStuchbery_/status/1082304571580534786
The Daily Mail’s article “Enemies of the People” evokes similarities to naming and shaming of “traitors of the people” in 1933 Nazi newspaper Illustrierter Beobachter, and their own support for fascism and fearmongering against “the other” during that period.

This is your future, your childrens’ future. The kind of country we are about to become unless something alters our path drastrically…


Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine.
Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.
In all the dark Atlantic vale down from the hills of Surrey
A black water accumulates, return Albion! return!


Except from Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant — Blake
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